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No wage freeze after all

Leader expects raises for office employees

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012 1:15 a.m. CDT

DIXON – Since last year, Lee County Board members have talked about starting a wage freeze this month, but officials now say it won't happen.

Today, the county will consider a contract with the Teamsters, which represents employees in the offices of the county clerk and treasurer.

The agreement includes $1,000 raises for employees in the first and third years of the contract and $750 in the second year.

County Board member Dick Binder, R-Compton, said he was surprised to see the proposed increases when he read the packet for today's board meeting.

"I'm not a member of the negotiating committee. I don't know what they're doing," said Binder, one of the board's more fiscally conservative members. "I'll probably want to get more information before I vote on it."

County Board Chairman Rick Ketchum, D-Amboy, said county officials had hoped to get at least a 1-year wage freeze.

"We were trying to do that. Unfortunately, we're not going to get a wage freeze," said Ketchum, who became chairman this month.

He said he expected increases in the contracts with unions that represent sheriff's and highway employees.

"One would assume similar raises for nonunion employees," Ketchum said.

The contracts were slated to start Dec. 1; all of them will be retroactive to that date, officials said.

In August 2011, the board voted 17-8 to give nonunion employees $1,000-a-year raises. Supporters said it was only fair because union workers were getting similar increases. At the meeting, they said the county would align all of its union contracts so that they have the same expiration date. That way, they said, they would be fair to enact a wage freeze for all employees at the same time.

At a committee meeting in July 2011, Ketchum, who then headed the board's Finance Committee, also backed the wage freeze idea.

"We'll draw a line in the sand next year. We'll argue with everyone," he said, referring to union negotiations.

The county expects a dire situation starting in 2014, when its contract with Phoenix-based Republic Services' landfill will end. That is expected to mean a loss of $1 million a year in landfill revenue for the county.

The county has been using the landfill money to plug a deficit in its general fund, which pays for departments such as the sheriff and county clerk.

County Board member Judy Truckenbrod, R-West Brooklyn, said she, too, was surprised by the proposed increases for the clerk's and treasurer's employees. Some of them are low paid, she said, but they have "excellent" benefit packages.

She said she would like to see a copy of the Teamsters contract before voting on it. As of Monday morning, she didn't have one.

Raising issues

The Lee County Board will meet at 9 a.m. today on the third floor of the Old Lee County Courthouse, 112 E. Second St. in Dixon.

The board will consider a contract with the union that represents employees in the treasurer's and county clerk's offices.

For an agenda for this meeting, minutes from past meetings or more information, go to www.countyoflee.org or call 815-288-5676.

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